The most experienced Welsh team in test rugby history needed it all to beat Ireland’s 14-man squad 21-16 in a tense Six Nations Championship match in the empty Principality Stadium on Sunday.
After their terrible year in 2020 – three wins in 10 tests – the Welshman gave New Zealand-born coach of the year Wayne Pevak his first notable win, and his best win since the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Under the pressure of winning anyway, Bevac called up the golden generation of Wales and put up a team of 874 caps. Nine players had more than 50 players each. They had enough to stop the Ireland he preferred.
Welles’ fears were somewhat subsided when Irish winger Peter O’Mahoni was sent off in the 14th minute. He led and shoulder to Wells’s exposed head Thomas Francis, who was stuck in a wreck. It was an easy decision for referee Wayne Barnes.
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The beefac felt relieved to get a winning start.
He said after the match: “We will take this win in any way we can and it is clear that we are now paying to Scotland next week.”
We often see the extra-man advantage, but we let Ireland get back into the game with a series of penalties and those points came up, but we managed to ride in the second half.
“You can see how many people have participated in the game and its effect has been constant during the match. It’s just a six-day shift and it doesn’t help.”
“It’s about the campaign and it’s day one. We’re thrilled to get those four points, and we’re looking forward now to going to Murrayfield.”
Wells were 3-0 up at the time and were expected to start. But losing a man sharpened Ireland’s focus and entered the first half 13-6.
However, the Irish and Wales squeezed George North and Louis Reese Zamel’s attempts to lead 18-13 in the fourth quarter. A harsh penalty kick against Ireland in front of her base saw Lee Halfbenny win a third penalty, and Welles had a two-goal lead with 14 minutes left.
Ireland lost captain Jonathan Sexton after accidentally hitting the head with Justin Tiborec’s knee, and they could only add a penalty by substituting flyhalf Billy Burns. Burns had the opportunity to line up in stoppage time, but he shot the ball into the back of the goal.
The result was Ireland’s first loss to Wales in five Tests, and second-year coach Andy Farrell remains without a win away from home.
O’Mahony became the fifth Irishman to be sent off in a Test and the second in tournament history after Willie Duggan in 1977. O’Mahony risks losing the rest of the tournament after his second red card this season in Wales. In October, he received two yellow cards as captain of Manster against Scarlitz, also for an unnecessary fee in the ranks.
Wells was on top at that point. Ireland, however, regrouped, kept the ball in hand, and directed penalties from frustrated Wells.
Sexton returned the score after 35 minutes. The physical exertion was revealed when Johnny Williams of Wales and Ireland turned off James Ryan for a concussion examination.
Just before halftime, Ireland got a lockout bid by Tadhg Beirne. Ireland stole Wells’ third squad, midfield trimmed Robbie Henshaw and Tiboric broke, Josh Van der Flair was in support, and Byrne collapsed.
There was just enough time for more Welsh misery when scrumhalf Tomos Williams injured his right hamstring while running. He was the last man to leave the field, limping at half-time.
Wells is back more in control. The knockout by Ireland on the 22nd was quickly converted into an attempt by the North, off-site in the center.
Then North and Halfpenny fed Reese Zammit, and from the start of the stand at 15 meters, the wing ran into its first six nations and landed in the right corner. Halfpenny shifted off the sideline and Welles was on top.
Byrne came under heavy pressure for a daring foul and Halfpenny’s goalkeeper made it 21-13.
But Wells conspired with mistakes he made to continue to give Ireland hope for victory. After four minutes’ stoppage time, North was penalized and Burns attempted a linear kick to five meters. But he blew it up and fell on his knees.
Sexton sympathized with Burns.
The Irish captain said in a post-match TV interview: “When you are 10, you have to do it and you go five meters. Sometimes you miss and sometimes you are the champion, but the difference is big between 10 and 5 meters.
“I’m proud of the boys for the effort we’ve put in, but in the end it resulted in some major mistakes. I think two decisions are against us in the end, but Wells is a very good team and we just have to blame ourselves.”
“We talked about discipline in the week but it let us down, and we made some major mistakes.”
Ireland has a week to recover before France arrives in Dublin.
Powerful midfielder George North scored the first goal after a superb dump from winger Josh Navidi, who replaced injured Dan Ladyati in the first half.
A quick glance
Wales 21 (George North, Lewis Reese Zamette Trying; Lee Halfpenny 3 Pen, Con) Ireland 16)Try Tudge Byrne; Johnny Sexton 2 pen, con; Billy Burns pen). HT: 6-13.